Certification of silicosis class action lawsuit is a momentous decision

Earlier today (Friday, 13 May 2016), the South Gauteng High Court unanimously passed a historic ruling certifying a class action lawsuit by ex-miners who had contracted silicosis while working underground in South Africa’s gold mines. Handing down judgement, Deputy Judge President Phineas Mojapelo, said:

“We hold the view that in the context of this case, class action is the only realistic option through which most mine workers can assert their claims effectively against the mining companies”.

Sonke Gender Justice is elated by the ruling. “It is a massive leap forward in the struggle for socio-economic rights, gender equality and worker justice in the history of our country. The doors to justice have been pushed a little wider for more poor people to access their right to justice, as enshrined in our Constitution”, says Director of Programmes, Desmond Lesejane.

“The ruling grants ex-mineworkers affected by silicosis and the women who cared for them upon their return to impoverished mine-sending communities an opportunity to put their claim for compensation for exploitative, discriminatory and negligent behaviour by mining companies for arbitration by the courts of the country. Mining companies will be held accountable by ex-workers, their families and communities in an open process for the first time. Importantly, ex-miners now have a fair chance to be compensated for the disease and the resultant poor health imposed by sub-standard working conditions and unethical conduct by mining houses”, Lesejane adds.

Sonke Gender Justice joined the case as amici curiae or “friends of the court” to provide evidence on the gendered impact of silicosis on women and girls. Specifically, Sonke introduced evidence that the mining industry has systematically displaced the heavy financial, emotional and physical costs of caring for mineworkers with silicosis onto women in rural communities and should compensate women for this unacknowledged and unpaid care work. This work often goes.

Sonke’s Executive Director, Dean Peacock, noted that the “judgement called for a development of common law to enable transmissibility of damages that will accrue at the end of trial in case the litigating miner passes on. This will ensure that affected families and women in particular will benefit from the process. We are pleased that the court has drawn attention to the gendered dimensions of the case. This is a significant affirmation of the urgent need for gender transformation and recognition of the need to value women’s care work and ensure compensation for it”.

“We joined the case as friends of the court as an act of solidarity with the workers and to ensure that the impact of silicosis on women was recognised and addressed. As an organisation we will use our networks to mobilise other affected families and miners to join the class action through our partners in South Africa and in neighbouring countries, as enjoined by the court,” says Desmond Lesejane, Programme Director at Sonke Gender Justice.

Sonke is committed to supporting and standing in solidarity with ex-miners, their families, and the many women who have made enormous sacrifices, and calls on other civil society partners to support the process. Worker rights are human rights. Women’s rights are human rights.



  1. Dean Peacock, Executive Director: Sonke Gender Justice.
  2. Desmond Lesejane, Director of Programmes, Sonke Gender Justice.